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Monday, April 22, 2013

THE HOODLUM (1919)

Ever the businesswoman, Mary Pickford repurposed plot & character elements from two of her greatest ArtCraft successes (STELLA MARIS/’18 and AMARILLY OF CLOTHES-LINE ALLEY/’18*) when she left that Paramount releasing arm to start her own company. STELLA’s Unity Blake became Amanda Afflick in SUDS (and even got a happy ending), while the Irish tenement world of Amarilly morphed into multi-ethnicity for THE HOODLUM’s Amy Burke, a spoiled 5th Avenue rich girl who gets a well-deserved comeuppance when she goes slumming in the Lower East Side while her dad studies ‘how the other half live.’ Charming & funny at its best, and unexpectedly/unapologetically integrated, the ramshackle plotting keeps it from hitting its potential as director Sydney Franklin struggles with half his cast working under assumed identities. The story has Mary’s ultra-rich Capitalist G’pa (a ringer for Thom Edison) spying on Mary’s Lower East Side adventures, her good social deeds and her romance with a young man out to clear his name from a trumped up conviction arranged by . . . Capitalist G’pa! Pickford had only recently lost the writing talents of her long-time collaborator Frances Marion, and it shows. But, with Charles Rosher lensing, it sure looks great on this restored Mary Pickford Foundation-Milestone DVD and is, like the curate’s egg, good . . . in pieces.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The disc comes with a fascinating D. W. Griffith short, RAMONA (one of the 44 Mary made in 1910!), that finds her shaming her community by marrying a Native American. There’s a good deal of arm-waving from the actors in this early work, but the treatment of Henry B. Walthall’s Indian character is, if slightly condescending, extremely sympathetic. The idea that Indians were routinely shown as savage killers is one of those myths that just won’t die. Here, things end tragically with an abrupt gunshot to the head that still shocks.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Mary’s favorite director, Marshall Neilan, and her own Irish tenement background help make something special out of AMARILLY. Especially, in a sequence where she takes her plain Irish family uptown to meet the society swells. Instead of being embarrassed by them, she’s at a loss to see how the snobs can’t see what treasures they are. It’s one of her films that help us understand why Griffith needed to hire both Gish sisters (dramatic Lillian & comedic Dorothy) when Pickford left the company.

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